Percy E. Sutton: A Titan Worthy of Emulation

Memorial service for iconic business leader to be held 11 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 6, at Manhattan's Riverside Church


Percy Sutton purchased and helped revive the famed Apollo theater in 1981.

Despite a failed 1976 bid for a mayoral seat, Sutton still exercised influence in local politics and business.

“As Borough President, Sutton advocated for and implemented programs that specifically targeted the City’s most vulnerable populations,” said Arva Rice, president and CEO of the New York Urban League.

A fixture on the legendary 125th St. as a young man, Sutton was able to give back to the community that helped shape him when he purchased a financially beleaguered Apollo Theater for $250,000 in 1981. With the acquisition, ICBC also acquired or launched a magazine, record and publishing companies, an artist management company, and several other related entities, including a syndicated television show, “Showtime at the Apollo.” Along with the purchase Sutton secured investors for an $18 million renovation of the theater.

In addition to his radio holdings, Sutton also headed a group that owned The Amsterdam News, the second largest black weekly newspaper in the country. The paper was later sold.

“[Sutton’s] life-long dedication to the fight for civil rights and his career as an entrepreneur and public servant made the rise of countless young African Americans possible,” remarked President Barack Obama.

Sutton’s achievements mark a staunch dedication to education instilled in him and his siblings by his father, Samuel, who was born into slavery just before the Civil War. Samuel went on to become a high school principal. Sutton, the youngest of 15 children, was born in San Antonio on Nov. 24, 1920. Samuel made sure that all 12 of his surviving children went on to attend college.

Black Enterprise recognized Sutton with the Arthur G. Gaston Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000, one of many awards, including the 1987 NAACP Spingarn Medal, to his credit. Also in 2000, Black Enterprise readers named Sutton one of the “10 Most Important Black Business Luminaries” of the 20th century.

“Tuskegee Airman. Civil-rights activist. Attorney for the family of Malcolm X. First black (and longest-serving) Manhattan Borough President. BE 100s CEO and founder of Inner City Broadcasting Corp., one of America’s largest black-owned companies. Key strategist for the ground-breaking presidential campaigns of Rev. Jesse Jackson. Any one of these designations would make Percy E. Sutton, the youngest son of a former slave, a giant among men,” says Black Enterprise Publisher Earl Graves. “The combination of these, only a sampling of his achievements, stamps Sutton as a true titan. He lived a life full to overflowing, setting a standard truly worthy of emulation, and I am blessed and proud to have been his friend.”

Sutton is survived by his wife, Leatrice; his son Pierre, and daughter Cheryl.

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  • Aloha My Brothers & Sisters,

    This is a Sad Moment in our time for we lost another Giant, Sir Percy, a wonderful Brother with such a rich record of action and accomplishment for us all. When I ran into Sir Percy several years ago at a function in Harlem, I mentioned our great loss of a contemporary of his: Dick Campbell [(deceased in 1994), founder of Sickle Cell Fndtn. of Greater NY, who was my Mentor in Harlem, USA]. He replied “Dick was a Giant, and always will be” that which is my message here. Our love to his Family for this devasting lost. Giants like him would only want us to carry on and continue to achieve necessary action(s) and achievment(s).

    George Rainey, Jr.
    Nubian Pageant Systems
    Fmr. Hawaii State Commissioner – Dept. Commerce & Consumer Affairs

    • Richard Grupenhoff


      Shortly before his death I conducted a number of interviews with Dick Campbell about his life story. Indeed, i was one of his pall bearers at his funeral in 1994. A good man, sensitive and vital even at 91. He was a good friend of Lorenzo Tucker, black mmovie idol of Race Movies. I wrote Tucker’s bography, “TheBlack Valentino: the Stage and Screen Career of Lorenzo Tucker.”

  • Jeff Milligan

    What an Inspiration and a Giant of a man. He set the bar real high and we as a people and me as an individual have something to strive for as an example of what and how we should live our life. Percy Sutton thank you.
    Jeff Milligan
    We Buy Any House, LLC
    LIFT, Inc.
    Atlanta, GA

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